i have only cycled in london once and the end result did not recommend itself. granted, i was naive enough to direct myself by means of a screenshot from a google map of london, a bad idea as it turned out for google did not name every street i was to come across in my misadventure. it's a tad scary when you're a country boy stopped at a roundabout desperately trying to figure out the way forward.
this subject matter raised its head during the past week when folks asked if i'd rented a boris bike when in london for the bike show. if i truly had knowledge of how to navigate the rabbit warren that is central london, i might have considered it. as it is, both london and i were considerably better off by my choice of travelling on the underground along with a brief riverboat journey to the tate britain at pimlico. i have trawled the impressive list of cicerone publications, but nowhere can i find a guide to cycling in central london. until that publication arrives, i'll confine myself to boats, trains and shanks's pony.
however, the hebrides are a whole 'nuther bucket of santanders, much given to traversing by bicycle from end to end starting either north or south. given that scotland's west coast islands cover a larger and arguably more inclement area, devoid of anything like the joined-up transport system to be seen in london, a comprehensive guide is possibly a must. unless of course you're one of those intrepid adventurers willing to adapt to whatever you might meet along the way, with no specific schedule to which it is necessary to adhere.
hence, of course, richard barrett's cicerone guide to cycling in the hebrides. this particular volume has been previously published and reviewed by yours truly in 2012. since i no longer have possession of that copy, i must assume that this is hopefully an updated version. if that's the case, i have a few misgivings that pertain specifically to the islay section of the book, commencing on page 90.
though the hebrides technically begin with islay in the south and end on reaching lewis in the far north, you have to get there first. mr barrett has therefore cleverly included linking routes that allow unfettered bicycle access to this most marvellous of scottish journeys. these commence on the scottish mainland, bringing the touring or day cyclist to ardrossan for the trip to arran, then onward to the kintyre peninsula and the kennacraig ferry terminal for the calmac ferry to islay.
barrett's first proferred taste of island cycling is along the south taking in the distilleries of laphroaig, lagavulin and ardbeg. i pointed out in my review of the first edition of this book that, despite spelling it correctly on the accompanying map, laphroaig had been incorrectly spelt in the text. sadly, despite this heads up, the distillery still suffers from this iniquity. additionally, mr barret contends that the south coast distilleries "offer tours, sampling and cafés". unfortunately only ardbeg has a café. if i correctly recall, laphroaig might have a coffee machine in the visitor centre, but otherwise...
further on, when cycling round loch gorm on islay's west coast, he mentions "Turning east around the northern shore of Loch Gorm, the road passes through Ballinaby, which is the largest village in this part of the island." sharon and jim mcharrie will be most amused to read of their farm being described as a village. there are but three occupied buildings on the farm, one of which is a holiday cottage. he may have incorrectly confused ballinaby with the houses at carnduncan about a mile further round the same road, but it is no village either and the road does not, in fact, pass through it.
unfortunately, i'm not finished yet.
in his brief history of the hebrides, he makes no mention of the lords of the isles who based their governance at loch finlaggan on islay. the lords of the isles are an important aspect of the islands' history, stretching from islay through mull, iona and on to skye, it's hardly a point that will restrict any aspect of cycling the isles, but odd that it has been omitted.
on a more specific note, on page 96, when describing a circuit of central islay from bowmore, he advises "Head up Main Street and turn left towards the radio mast along the minor road immediately behind the church. turn right at the T-junction at Laggan Bridge and follow the B8016 for one and a quarter miles southwards, the turn sharp left onto 'High Road'..." actually that would be the 'glen road'; turning right at the bridge has already taken you onto the 'high road'.
now i realise i could easily be accused of pettiness at this point and i might well be inclined to agree with you. however, if i was able to come across these errors relating to merely one island in this travelogue, one has to wonder if such a proportion is repeated throughout the book. as one who has only ever cycled islay, jura and colonsay, how would i know?
in an ideal world, folks such as i, happily reviewing several travel books sent by the good folks at cicerone, would have thorough experience of that which we presume to critique. unfortunately, that's a situation that is very unlikely ever to occur given the extensive nature of the cicerone catalogue. overall, this, as with many another volume from cicerone, is essentially well-researched, well written and copiously illustrated. unfortunately, it may have stalled slightly at the proofing stage.
art lies in the details.
such criticisms aside, i'd be hard-pushed to withdraw any recommendation; the directions, detail, maps and instructions will almost certainly get you from the ferry port at ardrossan to the northernmost point of lewis in safety. there are plenty of narrative distractions along the way to enhance your appreciation of the islands visited, while each route and day trip is conveniently summarised at the back of the book.
and mr barrett did have the great decency to mention velo club d'ardbeg, debbie's and the ride of the falling rain, so he's quite obviously a decent fellow who is welcome to join us for a bike ride and a coffee anytime he's in the area.
monday 22 february 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................